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Calvary Episcopal Church
667 Mount Road
Aston, PA       19014

610-459-2013
OFFICE




mail@calvaryepiscopalrockdale.org
SERMON
18 Pentecost - Proper 19
September 14, 2008
The Rev. Kristine Hill
667 Mount Road, Aston, PA   19014                                                 610-459-2013
Small Parish - Big Heart
The little church you've been looking for!
All are welcome!
Our Mission:

To worship
the Lord

To serve the
community

To grow the
church
crosses  and  small  crosses  --  some  long  and  narrow,  others  boxy, or   wide  --  
each  proudly  held  by  someone  whose  carriage  and  expression  showed  the  
importance  of  his  or  her  task.  Some  held  their  cross  high  and  straight,  others  
a  little  lower  and  not  quite  as  erect.  But  each  of  the  crosses  those  acolytes  
held  looked  regal  whether  it   was  made  of  shining  brass  or  polished  wood,  
whether  newly  purchased  or  worn  from  years  of  use.    Whether  the  cross  was  
empty  signifying  the  victory  of  the  resurrection,  or  draped  with  Jesus’  body  to  
remind  of  the  crucifixion,  each  was  regal  in  appearance.   Watching  that  sea  of  
crosses  come  in  procession  down  the  long,  long  center  aisle  of  the  
Washington  National  Cathedral  just  about  took  your  breath  away.

At  the  annual  Acolyte  Festival,  congregations  from  across  the  nation  bring  their  
young  people  --  crucifers,  torch  bearers,  Bible  bearers,  banner  bearers,  
censors   --  to  join  the  great  procession  and  to  worship  God  in  the  great  
Cathedral.   It’s  a  wonderful  event.  That  marvelous  nave  with  its  impossibly  high  
arches,   is  filled  with  participants – children  as  young  as  four  years  old  up  to  
adults  in  their  sixties  and  seventies.   What  a  sight  to  see  --  the  packed  church,  
about  equally  divided  with  black  people  and  white  people;  the  multitude  of  
acolytes  dressed  in  their  robes  which  are  pretty equally  divided  between  red  
robes  and  white  robes.  In  each  group  one  acolyte  brings  the  Bible,  two  carry  
the  torches,  a  more  seasoned  acolyte  swings  the  incense  --  up  and  down,  
over  and  around   --  and  in  the  middle  of  it  all,  dignified  and  reverent,  comes  
the  acolyte  bearing  the  cross.  You  can  see  on  that  acolyte’s  face  how  much  it  
means  to  carry  the  cross.

Today  is  Holy  Cross  Sunday  --  Calvary  Day  --  this  congregation’s  name  day.  It  
is  a  good  day,  a  day  to  celebrate,  to  rejoice,  to  feast  --  (which  we  plan  to  do  
right  after  worship  with  a  picnic  lunch).  The  image  from  the  acolyte  festival  at  
the  Washington  Cathedral  came  to  mind  because  today,  we  hold  the  cross  
high  in  our  worship,  in  our  midst.  Today  we  rejoice  in  the  victory  of  the  cross  
of  Jesus  Christ.   We  remember  that  we  have  been  set  free  from  bondage.  We  
are  no  longer  chained  to  things  that  hold  us  back,  that  keep  us  from  living  a  
full  life,  from  giving  our  whole  selves  to  life  --  our  gifts  and  abilities,  our  plans,  
our  dreams,  our  hopes,  our  mistakes,  our  failures,  our  limitations,  our  capacity  
to  learn  and  grow  --  we  give  everything  without  fear  because  we  know  that  in  
the  cross  we  have  been  claimed  by God  as  beloved,  that  in  Jesus  we  have  
been  promised  the  opportunity,  whenever  we  mess  things  up,  to  start  again.    
What  a  great  day  --  a  day  to  celebrate  the  cross  of  Jesus  Christ.

The  cross  has  released  us  from  captivity;  we  are free  to  be  fully  alive.   Marked  
by  the  cross,  our  Christian  communities  take  a  certain  shape.  Together,  we  live  
boldly,  not  holding  back  or  hiding  ourselves  from  one  another  (not  easy,  but  
possible);  we  build  trust,  map-out  common  goals,  speak  openly  to  one  another  
about  disagreements,  undertake  projects  which  may  or  may  not  succeed,  and  
we  carry-on  the  ministry  of  Jesus  Christ,  we  embody  Jesus  in  our  
relationships.    We  live  this  way  --  strive  to  live  this  way  --  because  of  the  
lavish  mercy  of  God.     On  the  cross,  Jesus  forgave  the  whole  human  race  for  
denying  him  and  putting  him  to  death  --  “Father  forgive  them,  they  don’t  
understand...;”  on  the  cross  Jesus  promised  the  repentant  sinner:  “today  you  
will  be  with  me  in  Paradise.”     We  rejoice  in  the  cross  of  Christ.   In  it  we  see  
God’s  mercy;  by  it  we  are  redeemed;  through  it  we  receive  life,  rich  and  
abundant.    

Even  while  we  are  rejoicing,  though,  sometimes  we  get  tripped  up  in  our  life  
under  the  cross,  this  new  life  Jesus  has  blessed  us  with.   It  has  a  different  set  
of  values  from  “the  life  of  the  world,”  and  since  we  live  both  places  –  in  the  
world  and  under  the  cross  –  at  times  we  fail  to  shape  our  relationships  
according  to  our  life  in  Christ.   Which  is  why  Peter  went  to  Jesus  and  asked:  
“if  one  of  the  members  of  the  congregation  (not  a  stranger,  or  an  outsider,  
mind  you  -  but  a  fellow  believer…)  if  one  of  the  brothers  or  sisters  sins  
against  me,  how  often  should  I  forgive?   As  many  as  seven  times?”  It’s  a  
reasonable  question.  How  often  should  we  “bite  the  bullet”  and  forgive  when  
someone  has  wronged  us?   By  naming  the  number  “seven”  Peter  is  not  being  
arbitrary;  in  ancient  Hebrew  culture  “seven” connotes  perfection  or  completion.   
His  questions  implies:  “would  seven  times  --  seven  signifying  completion  --  be  
the  fulfillment  of  my  duty  toward  that  person?”  --  not  an  unreasonable  thing  to  
ask.  

Jesus’  response  is:  “not  seven  times,  but  seventy-seven  times.”  Again  working  
with  the  idea  that  “seven”  stands  for  a  thing  being  completed,  Jesus’  reply  
suggests  that Peter  needs  to  forgive  to  the  extent  of  ‘completion  doubled,’  or  
we  might  say  ‘completion  to  the  “nth”  degree.’   Jesus’  point  is  that  Peter  does  
not  so  much  have  the  “wrong  answer,”  as  he  has  failed  to  understand  what   
forgiveness  is  altogether.   There  is  no  keeping  accounts  in  forgiveness,  no  
scorecards  to  note  who  has  been  forgiven  how  many  times,  who  owes  what  
to  whom.  The  whole  point  of  forgiving  someone,  is  to  let  the  offense  go,  to  
resume  the  relationship  without  that  incident  being  a  stumbling  block  any  
more.  One  who  has  truly  let  go  of  an  incident  does  not  remember  how  many  
times  she  has  forgiven  another.   And  forgiveness  is  the  core  of  living  under  
the  cross.  Through  the  cross  we  are  released  from  burdens  and  debts;  we  
now  live  in   the  wideness  of  God’s  love  and  mercy.  How  easy  and  joyful  to  
share  that  grace,  love  and  mercy  --  that  forgiveness  --  with  one  another.  

However,  there  is  a  story  that  illustrates  our  gospel  reading  this  morning,  and  
it  is  troubling.   A  slave  with  an  enormous  debt  is  on  the  verge  of  being  
thrown  into  debtor’s  prison  with  his  whole  family.  He  begs  the  king  to  give  
him  more  time  to  pay.  The  king  relents  and,  rather  than  giving  him  more  time  
to  pay,  simply  cancels  the  debt.  (Can  you  imagine  a  bank  doing  that?...  you’re  
six  months  late  on  your  mortgage  payments  and  instead  of  giving  you  a  re-
payment  plan,  they  simply  cancel  what  you  owe  and  give  you  the  house,  free  
and  clear?)   So,  this  newly  unburdened  slave  runs  into  a  fellow  slave  who  
owes  him  a  small  debt.  He  grabs  the  guy  by  the  neck  and  demands  immediate  
payment.  The  fellow  slave  asks  for  more  time  to  make  his  payments,  but  the  
debt-free  slave  refuses  and  throws  him  into  jail.   Well… not  surprising,  the  
neighbors  rat-on  the  debt-free  slave  and  the  king  locks-him-up  for  his  
heartlessness.       That  story  leaves  us  uncomfortable.   Because  we  get  that  it  is  
pointing  to  us  and  our  difficulty  forgiving  one  another,  but…   surely  we’re  not  
that  awful,     …are  we?  

We  live  under  the  reign  of  the  cross  --  the  empty  cross  --  where  Jesus  died  
but  no  longer  hangs  because  he  has  been  raised  and  he  lives.  The  cross  has  
changed  us,  it  has  changed  the  world  for  us,  it  has  changed  every-relationship-
we-are-in   because  it  has  opened  a  new  way  for  us  to  relate  to  God.   Nothing  
is  the  same  since  the  cross  of  Jesus.   Sin’s  hold  over  us  is  broken;  the  
shame  we  bore  because  we  could  not  keep  the  law  is  wiped-away.  The  
distance  we  thought  lay  between  us  and  God  --  (you  and  I  so  broken  and  
imperfect,  so  vulnerable  and  limited,  while   God  is  power  and  perfect-justice,  
love  and  absolute  truth)  --  the  distance  we  thought  was  there,  is  gone.   God  is  
as  close  as  the  bread  laid  in  our  hands,  the  cup  raised  to  our  lips .  God  is  as  
close  as  the  words  we  hear  with  our  own  ears:  “Almighty  God  have  mercy  on  
you  and  forgive  you  all  your  sins  through  our  Lord  Jesus  Christ…”   God  is  as  
close  as  the  cross  that  stands  in  our  nave,  the  altar  in  our  chancel,  the  pulpit  
Bible  -- these  Christian  symbols  that  call  us  to  recognize  God’s  presence  in  
God’s  house.   The  cross  has  changed  everything.     No  wonder  congregational  
acolytes  shine  with  the  honor  of  carrying  the  cross  into  worship.

And  so  we  are  gathered  today,  Calvary  Church  celebrating  Holy  Cross  Sunday,  
our  name  day…  what  does  this  day  and  its  name  mean  for  us?   What  does  it  
say  about  who  we  are?   Does  it  suggest  that  we  are  bearers  of  the  cross,  like  
those  reverent,  dignified  acolytes  at  the  National  Cathedral,  proudly  bearing  
aloft  the  symbol  of  new  life  in  Christ?   Does  it  mean  that  we  are  people  who  
lead  others  to  worship,  representing  within  ourselves,  within  our  community,  
the  cross  of  Christ  so  that  all  may  see  and  come  to  the  house  of  God?   Does  
it  mean  that  we  are  a  people  dedicated  to  incorporating  forgiveness  into  our  
life  together,  practicing  over-and-over  how  to  address  issues  and  conflicts  
among  ourselves  honestly  so  we  can  then  be  able  genuinely  to  forgive  each  
other  and  move  on?   Is  that  what  it  means  for  us  to  be  people  who  live  under  
the  cross,  people  who  bear  the  name  “Calvary  Church?”   

Today  we  celebrate  Calvary  church  --  our  past,  our  present  and  our  future;   
we  give  thanks  for  the  many  years  of  being  the  Body  of  Christ  in  this  place,  
doing  God’s  work.  We  remember  fondly  people  who  have  been  among  us,  
leaders,  rectors,  members.   We  praise  God  for  the  service  we  have  been  able  
to  render,  for  the  people  we  have  loved,  for  the  worship  we  have   offered,  for  
the  learning  and  the  teaching,  for  how  we  have  grown  in  faith.   We  give  
thanks  to  God  for  this  parish,  going  back  to  its  beginning,  one  hundred  and  
seventy-five  years  ago,  and  looking  ahead  to  its  future.  Just  as  Calvary  has  
touched  the  lives  of  many  people  from  its  beginning   until  now,  we  pray  that  
we  might  continue  to  reach  others  with  the  good  news  of  Jesus  Christ.   And  
so  may  the  God  who  loves  us  and  has  redeemed  us  by  the  Holy  Cross,  be  
among  us  now  to guide  us,  so  that  the  blessings  of  this  congregation  will  not  
stay  here,  but  will  be  shared  with  our  neighbors  and  with  the  world,  for  the  
love  of  Jesus  Christ.                         amen
Genesis 50:15-21
Romans 14:1-12
Matthew 18:21-35